Events like Dreamforce are more than an agenda of speakers. The best conferences are experiential and have an impact on people. Live events bring people together, and in our digital focused world, people are hungry to engage with other humans in a live setting.
Ten years ago the death of meetings was predicted. Economic pressures around the high cost of travel were coupled with the advancement in streaming video, causing many to think that business gatherings would become less popular. Yet that could not have been farther from the truth. In 2017 there will be more face-to-face events than ever before, and the meetings industry is experiencing record numbers. More hotel and convention space is being planned in almost every major city, and barring another recession, the trends are showing up and to the right.
But why? If we can connect with others through a like, link, share, or follow, what is the purpose of getting together in person?
Because people are still people. We are social creatures and we do our best when we collaborate with others in our communities. While some elements of this can be achieved remotely, there is still something about looking another person in the eyes and sharing experiences.
When I speak at live conferences, or act in the role of master of ceremonies, my content is about connecting. In a world where we have more access to people all around the world, people are more lonely. Former US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy wrote in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review that we face an epidemic of loneliness. Over 40% of adults in the United States report feeling lonely. This is only getting worse as we retreat deeper into our phones and look up at those around us less often.
Live meetings used to be the place we went to learn cutting edge information about our industries. There were few other ways to gather information and stay relevant. But now all the information we could ever want is available online. There are free and paid resources in every field that will help professionals learn.
However the other reason people have always attended meetings, for the networking opportunities, has become even more critical. Surveys of attendees across verticals shows that people want to make connections when they come to a conference (and yes, learning is still a key draw, too).
It is the responsibility of meeting organizers to provide both. Too often they seek high impact topics and data, but hope the networking will just happen on it's own. Making contacts at a live event, however, has gotten harder over the years because people are commonly looking at phones and tablets. They miss the chance to have conversations and thus go home feeling they missed out on much of the networking.
The more companies and associations embrace their key role in helping their attendees engage, the better experience people will have at the event. The better experience they have, the higher chance they will return the following year. It is a vicious cycle. Conferences like Dreamforce, SXSW, and others that have high repeat attendees are very aware in how the success of the meeting is tied directly to the human experience.
If people attend for "networking opportunities" and we do not provide them with the chance make meaningful connections, than the conference has failed. I spend a lot of time talking with clients about their goals for the experience and the networking. It does not matter if the audience is made up of millennials, introverts, academics, etc... (all reasons sited as to why they do not prioritize the networking on par with the learning). People are people. We spend too much time labeling our audiences and separating them. Instead we need to seek the similarities and build a community.
Live events exist to help people connect.
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